Writer/director Alex Garland (The Beach, Sunshine) casts Natalie Portman as a biologist who joins a team of other female scientists into a mysterious, growing dome called ‘the shimmer’. Inside they quickly learn that the phenomenon is altering the DNA of flora and fauna — including themselves. They head to the source of the mystery, a lighthouse where a meteor crashed years ago. Will they determine what is causing ‘the shimmer’ to slowly take over Earth, or will its mutating effects cause them to go mad in the process?
Annihilation, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, is classic sci-fi, encouraging us to question what it is that makes us human and how we separate our concepts of the ‘self’ from the ‘other’. The film is also a love story — between Portman’s character and her soldier husband (Oscar Isaac), the only human being ever to have returned from ‘the shimmer’. It also blends action and horror into the mix, as Portman and her comrades face enraged, mutated animals and madness from within their own ranks. The blending and borrowing from so many conventional genres makes the movie all the more interesting. But its the mystery element that propels the story forward, and the worth of any good mystery hangs on its revelation. It’s here where Annihilation really distinguishes itself, uncovering it’s narrative riddle by posing another, far more interesting question.
Portman is solid, aloof as she hides her motives from other characters, but vulnerable in her scenes with Isaac — the most human scenes in the movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is icy cold as the lead scientist in the journey. The cinematography and production design are remarkable, with scenes inside ‘the shimmer’ mimicking a sort of paradise. (That Hell could be so beautiful is of central interest to the movie’s message.) The music by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury is also a standout, shifting between peaceful ambience and disruptive noise that marries to the film’s climactic imagery so well, you can’t tell if its music added in post-production, or the actual sound of secrets revealed.
With Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Benedict Wong.